With such a simple formula—just gin plus dry vermouth and the occasional dash of orange bitters—the Martini doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate for hard-line devotion. But, like the Old-Fashioned and Negroni, often it’s the simplest cocktails that inspire the highest degree of obsession. The matters at stake in the case of the Martini are not just what base spirit belongs in the glass (vodka or gin?), but what shape that glass should be (V-shaped or a coupe?), and whether the drink ought to be shaken, stirred or thrown; served up or on the rocks. Of course, even if you were to address each of those variables to land your perfect Martini, one simple tweak like, say, tossing a cocktail onion into the mix to make it a Gibson, is enough to throw every element of the drink back into question. The Martini is, after all, just one member of the extended ’tini family—both classic and modern—each as obsession-worthy as the last.
In our Masters of X series, we invite drinkmakers who have fixated on every detail of a particular classic to share their secrets with us. Below, a few of our favorite Martinis and their closest ilk, from the bartenders who perfected them.
The evocatively named cocktail, created at the Townhouse in London in 2003 by Douglas Ankrah, is a Martini in name only, but has gone on to become a modern classic in the UK. Made with vanilla vodka, passion fruit liqueur and passion fruit purée, the final flourish is a shot of glass of chilled Champagne served alongside the drink (intended to alternate with the cocktail as a palate cleanser).
While some Gibson onions are boiled to a soft consistency, Meaghan Dorman deliberately removes the onions from the brine directly after a one-minute boil, “so the onions stay crunchy,” she explains. “It’s a nice little snack too.” After making the onions, be sure to retain some of the brine to add to the finished drink.
This variation on the Tuxedo cocktail (gin, sherry, and bitters) dates to the turn of the 20th century and swaps sherry for dry vermouth, with the addition of maraschino liqueur and absinthe. Eric Alperin, co-owner of a hospitality group that includes The Varnish in Los Angeles, and Penny Pound Ice, describes the Martini variation as having a “gentle kiss of fruit and an herbaceous bow-tie finish.”
The Dukes’ Martini—murderously dry and cold—is famous worldwide and cherished by some as the definitive expression of the Martini. That assertion is highly debatable, but the drink is singular in its power and presentation.
“It’s a knockout drink,” says Giuseppe Gonzalez, owner of New York’s now-closed Suffolk Arms. “It’s six ounces of freaking alcohol [and] a dash of vermouth. It’s frozen at sub-zero. It sits like milk because it’s so cold. Halfway through you feel drunk. There’s no dilution. It’s the equivalent of three three-ounce Martinis.” (For the record, the Martini can be ordered with gin or vodka at Dukes.)
To mitigate its might, Gonzalez serves a smaller-sized version. “It’s not gonna kill you,” he says. “It’s gonna hurt you.”